Yesterday was the start of the Cleveland Browns’ mandatory minicamp. It was also the first meaningful appearance this offseason of wide receive Odell Beckham, Jr., who was acquired via trade in March. Not just him, but also running back Duke Johnson, who formally requested a trade months ago.
“Nothing has changed”, he said as he showed up today and was asked about his status. “The only difference between last week (the end of voluntary OTAs) and this week is this is mandatory and I’m here”.
Johnson, whom the team signed to an extension last year, requested the trade after the Browns signed Kareem Hunt to a contract. Even though he will miss a good chunk of the season, at least, due to suspension, Hunt figures to pair with Nick Chubb to assume the vast majority of the available snaps at running back.
“I only want to be somewhere I’m wanted”, Johnson said about why he asked to be traded. “At the end of the day, that’s all this is about, being somewhere you’re wanted. In my case, the moment I’m not wanted anymore, I think it’s best that we find a middle ground and we do what’s best for the team. If you don’t want me here, there’s no need to keep me or force me to be here if you don’t want me here”.
His comments drew a bit of variety of responses. His head coach, Freddie Kitchens, who was his position coach a year ago, said of the veteran back, “I expect Duke to be a professional, and I think he will be. He’s never been anything but a professional. Whatever his personal feelings are, those are his personal feelings. I’m not going to dictate someone’s feelings”.
His quarterback, Baker Mayfield, took a bit of a different approach, telling reporters that any awkwardness with Johnson is “self-inflicted”. For his part, the running back said that he was on the trade block a month before he asked to be traded.
“You’re either on this train or you’re not”, the 2018 first-overall pick said in reference to his veteran teammate. “You can get out of the way or you can join us. So it is what it is”. This is not dissimilar to comments Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has said recently, saying that they are looking for volunteers, not hostages.
To Johnson’s credit, while he has acknowledged that he wants to be traded and is not happy with the manner in which it seems that the team plans to use him, he reported when he had to and even Kitchens said that he practiced hard.
He appears to have every intention of handling an awkward situation as professionally as possible, doing his job. I’m sure he still appreciates his teammates. He said he was “all in” even when they were 0-16. The only think he’s looking for is more opportunities, and more appreciation for his services.